Blog Site by Appointment to His Regal Majesty the Maalie King

He who would be a Leader, let him be a Bridge

Crown Copyright: The Royal Maalie Court

Friday, December 29, 2006


The next phase of the Yuletide festivities began when son Alun and partner Trudy arrived from Portsmouth on the evening of Friday 22 December to a festive spread of sausage rolls, anchovy and olive pizza, meat'n'tatty pies from Mabel's Bakery, a spicy ham prepared according to Goddess Nigella, mince pies, welshcakes, an apple pie (made with apples from the garden of Lorenzo the Llama), cheeses and other festive items.

Trudy places the Yule Cake by the evening's feast....

...and samples a glass of New Zealand Champagne

Saturday was they day for shopping in Ulverston to collect the pre-ordered pheasants, game pie and sticky-toffee pudding, along with the remaining salads and vegetables. A stop in the local farm shop for a slab of their excellent sausage meat (my mountain of sausage rolls seemed pitifully depleted after last night's bash) and a stop at the Candle Workshop in Lindal to top up supplies of candles, and to partake of coffee and hot chocolate in the tearoom.
Dinner comprised duck paté with ensalada mixta, luxury fish pie (salmon, smoked haddock and cod with prawns baked with parsley sauce baked in a pie topped with puff pastry).

Christmas Eve required the customary venturing out into the Duddon Estuary at low tide to obtain lugworm bait for fishing on Christmas morning. This strenuous activity was followed by a comparatively lazy day, the focus of which was "my" Christmas dinner of roast crown of turkey with the usual trimmings.

Alun and Trudy digging for lugworms in the Duddon Sands on Christmas Eve

The high tide was at about 2.30 am on Christmas morning, so midnight saw the three of us at the end of Askam pier casting out into the flood tide in perfect calm conditions with the lights of Askam behind us and those of Millom across the estuary. Trudy was the first to catch, a splendid flounder of 1 lb 2oz, followed later by a small whiting. Alun also caught a whiting, but, shamefully, I had no luck that night. A flask of piping hot glogg (mulled wine fortified with rum) helped to assuage my disappointment.

Trudy proudly displays her 1 lb 2 oz flounder caught in the small hours of Christmas morning
It was to bed by 3.00am after gutting and cleaning the fish, then up at 9.00am Christmas morning to make special Yuletide flounder cakes with capers, anchovy essence and parsely. Yum! Breakfast was supplemented with other goodies.

After dealing with presents, Alun took charge of the Christmas dinner, a brace of pot roasted pheasants with shallots and caramelised apples. part of the process involved chucking a tumbler of flaming Calvados into the pot (there was plenty left in the bottle for the Yuletide digestif).

Alun and Trudy hijack my kitchen...

Christmas afternoon was spent in the time-honoured soporific manner, watching tv and the Nutcracker ballet.

On Boxing Day morning we enjoyed a bracing walk round my research site at Roudsea Wood, shifting and topping up bird feeders necessary for my research on Marsh Tits.

In the afternoon we broke new ground by going to Holker Road Barrow to see Barrow Town AFC (the "Bluebirds") play football against Lancaster City. We had the satisfaction of seeing Barrow win by 3 goals to nil.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Festivities commence!

Today, Wednesday 20th December, is the Eve of the Winter Solstice 2006. The point of furthest departure of the sun is about 10.00pm tomorrow evening, Thursday 21st December. Tonight and tomorrow nights will therefore be the longest of the year. After that, the sun will start its northerly sojourn, bringing promise of another spring, the Cuckoo and Swallow, however far off it might seem just now.

To help me get the Solstice Celebrations off to a suitable start, my Décor Adviser Carolyn zipped up the M6 in her speedy sports car and in no time the Solstice Tree was decorated and the Solstice Rites could begin.

Solstice celebrations commence with Carolyn wearing the Coronet of Holly and bearing the Orb of Spice and a glass of glogg. The Ritual of the Sceptre of Mistletoe was executed later.

May the strengthening and warming rays of the returning sun bring joy to your hearts and fertility to your loins. Or, if you prefer, to your gardens.

Sylphe surveys the her domain from her lofty perch

Mince pies, fresh from the oven, sprinkled with cinnamon and icing sugar.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Winter Solstice

I have friends for whom this time of year is not necessarily the most joyful. The syndrome Seasonal Affective Disorder "SAD" is now recognised in orthodox medicine and is likely to exacerbate considerably the symptoms of Clinical Depression.

It is therefore easy to imagine that in days of yore our hunting-gathering ancestors might have been terrified that the inexorably disappearing sunshine through the Autumn months would prove calamitous, never to return. Little wonder then that the moment that the sun reached its furthest point, during the longest night, thereby heralding another Spring after all, was cause for joyous celebration.

It was a time to lighten the darkest nights with candles and flames; to dip into the hidden stores of ale and cider; to sacrifice a fowl or two; to cook the richest of puddings and cakes; to make merry with dancing and seasonal song; to revere the holly and the ivy, the mistletoe, the yew tree and the pine, whose ever-greenery may have brought some comfort in the frosty morns; to exchange gifts and warm greetings; and of course to swear oaths of fertility to their loins, their sweethearts and their fields.

The exact time of the Winter Solstice is variable, but this year the point at which the sun is furthest is about 10.00pm on Thursday 21st December. The night of 21-22 December is therefore the longest. I shall commence my Solstice celebrations and rituals about now, you may follow them here, on my blog.

Of course, for a day or two on either side of the Solstice itself, the difference in day length is measurable only chronometrically. But a few days afterwards, typically about 25th December, the increment in the Sun's trajectory through the noontide sky becomes perceptible. That is when I shall indulge in the focus of my Solstice Celebrations. I shall joyfully embrace any fellow men and women who, for whatever reason, are also celebrating on that day.

Of course we must not wallow in "Northern Hemisphere Chauvinism" (thanks to Richard Dawkins for that term) and should have in mind our fellow bloggers Simon, Kiwi Nomad and Ju's Little Sister abiding "Down Under" and for whom this time signifies sunshine and the reaping of harvests.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Two Kens

I'm blessed with two mates called Ken. The longest-standing is retired university colleague and fellow ecologist Ken. We have spent much time participating in field courses (mainly on Exmoor) and birdwatching at Rutland Water. Once or twice a year we'd go off for a couple of days in "firm's time" to have a bed and breakfast overnight stop at Cley (Norfolk) or Minsmere. We were easily able to justify these jollys on academic grounds: a biochemist, microbiologist or geneticist should enhance their personal academic skills in a laboratory. Ecologists must develop theirs (taxonomy, identification, etc.) in the field. Though we never claimed expenses, only the time.

One feature of our friendship was that once a week (ok, maybe sometimes twice) Ken would join me in my flat on the university campus after work for a beer. We'd take it in turns to buy the four-pack of McEwan's Export. Therefore he is referred to as "Drinking Ken".

Ringing Ken (left) and Drinking Ken (right) have supper at Maalie Court

On moving to Cumbria in 2001 I joined the Walney Bird Observatory and found other sites to pursue my bird-ringing interests. It wasn't long before I caught up with Ken from Barrow-in-Furness, also retired and a licensed bird ringer. We quickly became ringing colleagues and in particular Ken has been an invaluable partner in my study of Marsh Tits in the Roudsea Wood National Nature Reserve . In July 2005 we spent a week ringing seabirds on Bardsey Island, lying off the Lleyn Peninsular in North Wales. To avoid confusion, this Ken is referred to as "Ringing Ken".

I felt privileged that both Kens were able to join me at home yesterday (Dec 13th) for a birthday supper.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Weather Station

The weather has always been of critical importance to me, for example, for birdwatching, fishing, camping or fell-walking; and it is not possible to go bird ringing in wet or windy weather. Wind strength and direction can influence a decision as to which beach to go fishing, whilst a good storm might blow in some unusual bird species. From an early age my sons recognised the importance of tv weather forecasts to me, during which even so much as a whisper from one of them could bring a threatening scowl to my face!

One of my duties when I was leader of Vanda Station, administered by the New Zealand Antarctic Research Programme, was to assist the meteorologist in observing, recording, coding up and transmitting meteorological data into the world data base. Since then I have recorded weather data during my own expeditions. Recently I have discovered the UK Weather World website which contains a detailed fund of weather information, with forums for registered members and opportunities to log personal daily weather observations - a very productive use of the internet.

To assist with this I have bought a desk-top weather station from the weather superstore Meteorologica. This system has a sensor unit which is fixed outdoors and which transmits a low-energy radio signal to the desk-top receiver indoors. The data recorded are temperature, relative humidity and barometric pressure (the desk-top unit additionally displays the indoor measurements of these factors).

Desk top weather station from Meteorologica. More details about the unit are found here here .
The indoor "desktop" unit. (The pointe shoes are an auto- graphed pair of Darcey Bussell's).

Outdoor sensor unit mounted underneath the gutter.

Recording temperature, humidity and barometric pressure is precise, and is simply copied down from the screen of the desk-top recorder. Cloud type and cover is more complex and is subjective, because a personal identification and judgment has to be made, and this comes with practice and experience.

Clouds can be diverse and fascinating to watch, and may appear to be complicated to record but are quite easily classified. Fundamentally there are only two "types" of cloud: the layer type (stratus) and the bubbly "cauliflower" type (cumulus). These may be attributed to one or more of three possible levels: low, medium and high. The medium level clouds are prefixed by alto, hence altostratus and altocumulus, whilst the high level clouds are prefixed by cirro, hence cirrostratus and cirrocumulus (low level clouds have no layer prefix but may be prefixed by nimbo, indicating rain).

Once this classification is learned, recording clouds becomes possible, though in practice the observations can be complicated by mixtures of several types. Hybrid terms are available to describe clouds that don't seem to be quite one thing or the other, for example stratocumulus. A very useful pictorial guide to cloud types is found here.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Birthday Girl

Yesterday (December 2nd) was the birthday of fellow-Saggitarian Trudy "Strudles", the partner of elder son Alun. I was honoured and flattered that they should choose to celebrate the occasion with me here in Cumbria (the sea, mountains, lakes and escape from the stress of the "south" may have had something to do with it!).

The day started with breakfast of fruit juices, fresh mango and pineapple, toasted bagels with Philadelphia cheese and smoked ham, followed by baked Arbroath smokies, mince pies and welshcakes. Thornton's may have had an influence too.

We then called in at the old market town of Broughton-in-Furness to visit the mountain equipment shop's sale before soup and tea for lunch in the nearby Bakery Café. A visit to the art and craft shop preceded a drive over the fell to Ulverston for an afternoon calling into various trinket, arty, make-up and girlie-type bauble shops before Trudy declared it was time for a pint.

Trudy orders a pint

Then it was back home for an extended 40 winks all round before heading back to Ulverston where Alun has previously booked a table in the exquisite Rustique Restaurant.

Alun, Trudy and Jim peruse the menu

Alun deals with the wine

Trudy in demonstrative mood over coffee and a Baileys